Heads will roll, magistrate promises in inquiry into case postponed 69 times

2017-05-03 20:03
Magistrates court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Magistrates court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Johannesburg - Magistrate Hein Louw on Wednesday said he had had enough of prosecutors, stenographers, interpreters and police officers who did not do their jobs at the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court.

"There is always an excuse why people are not doing their jobs in Johannesburg."

Louw later apologised for losing his cool while grilling Sharnell Andrea Botes, the acting director in the human resources in Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in Gauteng, who was testifying in a Section 342A inquiry which was investigating what had caused delays in a matter which had been postponed almost 70 times.

On Tuesday morning the court had subpoenaed the regional head of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in Gauteng, Emily Dhlamini, and Director General, Vusi Madonsela.

They were called to explain why a matter, involving a drug charge, had dragged on since 2009.

New system

In an interview with News24 before delivering her testimony, Dhlamini explained that the case had been postponed 69 times. Three of the postponements were due to the non-availability of foreign language interpreters.

The other times, she said, was because the magistrates and prosecutors were not available to hear the matter.

She said what further compounded the issue was that the region had since implemented a new system where courts have to send the regional office a requisition form requesting a foreign language interpreter at the end of each postponement.

On March 31, the region terminated the contracts of all its foreign language interpreters in Johannesburg and Kempton Park areas.

Foreign language interpreters are now employed on a "need to have" basis and this has created somewhat of a crisis, the court heard on Wednesday.

Botes told the court that all the courts in the regions had been made aware that because of cost-cutting measures.

The credibility of the qualifications provided by foreign language interpreters and internal research which found that foreign language interpreters were not being utilised often, were among reasons why the department had decided to terminate contracts.

She said the department had found that the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court officials had not submitted requests for foreign language interpreters until recently. This was the reason the court had found itself in a precarious position where cases could not be heard because foreign language interpreters were not available.

'Proper crisis planning'

Botes said all the foreign national interpreters were sent letters informing them that their contracts would not be renewed on February 28.

"It is common practice to inform them that their contracts will expire. It is not a guarantee that their contracts will be extended."

Louw disputed Botes version saying: "One understands that there was no proper crisis planning."

He asked Botes if a communique was sent out well in advance informing people that their contracts would be terminated.

"How do you think the court is going to function if I do not have an interpreter? It is all good and well to say that I have no personnel, but service delivery is impacted because there are no foreign language interpreters. It is frightening that you thought you could change systems and thought that people will suddenly change without taking into regard how it was going to affect the functioning of the court."

The court heard that the national department sent out Circular 18 of 2017 informing the regions that contracts could be extended [until June 2017] provided that it was within the budget constraints.

Louw asked Botes if the department did not "foresee that terminating the contracts of 47 interpreters including Johannesburg and Kempton Park will cause the chaos we have today".

"HR took a decision that impacted on a court with the most courtrooms in the country, surely there should have been red flags... How could someone go from one day having a job and the next they are unemployed? Is that good practice in HR?"

'Disciplinary action'

Botes said she believed that if the court submitted the requisitions on time, a foreign language interpreter would be allocated immediately.

Louw did not accept Botes explanations saying the buck stopped with her as a senior civil servant.

"We have been sitting with this problem for years… I worked through thousands of papers during my holidays and to find out on Monday morning that you do not have an interpreter is frustrating.

"It seems to me, in this case, that there has been clear, concrete and unambiguous communication from your office saying: 'Please plan properly because there are only vacancies for casuals only.'"

He said he was slowly losing his patience with people who failed to do their jobs.

State prosecutor Goitsimang Gorewang asked Botes if the matter had been escalated to Justice Minister Michael Masutha and she said it was an operational matter that did not need Masutha's attention.

Louw reserved his judgment on the matter and said he would give Gorewang a written response within the next two days.

The drug matter is set down for August 1.

"There will be disciplinary action taken against a few people here, that is for sure," Louw said.

 

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  judiciary

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